April is going to be a busy month for the French Navy in the Indian Ocean. It is deploying its Carrier Battle Group to the region and participating in two major exercises – La Perouse a French Naval war game which will have the Quad countries and the other Ex Varuna a trilateral exercise with India and the UAE in the western Indian Ocean. This, according to an Indian Navy veteran “underlines the importance France accords to the entire Indo-Pacific where its economic and strategic interests including a large EEZ interests extend from the Horn of Africa to beyond Polynesia.”
“France has always maintained a significant naval presence in the Indian Ocean headed by a 2-star Admiral called Alindien and was also the first country to appoint an observer at the IOR-IFC (Indian Ocean Region Information Fusion Centre) set up by India on the outskirts of the national capital,” Commodore Anil Jai Singh, Vice President of the Indian Maritime Foundation, tells Financial Express Online.
Indo-France Military Relations
“The strategic relationship between France and India, which has been on an upward trajectory ever since France was supportive of India’s nuclear tests in 1998 when most of the western world’s first reaction was to impose sanctions, has expanded considerably in the last two decades. The fact that India is a large defence market also helps. Encouraging India to buy French weapons and equipment is part of the French Government’s thrust in India and the success can be seen in the sale of the Project 75 submarines and the Rafale fighter aircraft amongst others through a G2G arrangement,” Commodore Anil Jai Singh, says.
The former Indian Navy submariner says, “France is also pitching very strongly for the P75(I) submarine programme and is projecting itself as an integral part of India’s ‘Atmnirbharta’ drive though any meaningful transfer of technology showing this resolve is yet to be seen. France has also offered to share its civilian nuclear technology and has offered nuclear reactors to India.”
“This deepening bilateral relationship also dovetails seamlessly into the larger French engagement with the region and strengthens the ‘arc of maritime democracies’ in their efforts to ensure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and maintain a rules-based international order in the region particularly in the maritime domain,” he says.
India-France Maritime Cooperation
According to Commodore Singh, “The French naval ships are also visiting Kochi later in April. Following the articulation of its Indo-Pacific strategy it is the first country in the world to have appointed an Ambassador to the Indo-Pacific and is also looking to deepen the European engagement with this region. This was reflected in the Indo-Pacific strategies that followed from Euro-centric countries like Germany and The Netherlands who also appreciate the importance of ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and the safety and security of their trade.”
Bilateral Naval Drills
The 18th edition of the Indo-French bilateral naval Ex Varuna is scheduled in the last week of April. Last year due to the global pandemic Ex Varuna could not take place in its original format. This year the drill is taking place during the ongoing tensions between India and China. There will be larger participation of air assets from both navies; interoperability and jointness, and maritime security as the focus. Also on carrier operations and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) training, and air surveillance. Besides the three Kalvari class (Scorpene) and other ships, the air component of the exercise will witness dogfights between the Mig-29K fighters and Rafale-M, P-8I Maritime Patrol Aircraft, helicopters and other assets will be part of drill.
More about Ex Varuna
The Indo-French bilateral service exercise was initiated in 1983 and is the base of the strategic partnership between the two countries. And was christened as ‘Varuna’ in 2001.
And these war games between the two countries have fully-grown in scope and complexity and are in line with the Joint Strategic Vision Cooperation within the Indian Ocean Region.
For the first time ever Indian Navy will participate in the French naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal early next month. According to sources Quad member nations are going to be part of this drill – the US, Japan and Australia.
According to the Indian Navy officials, the drill is from April 5-7.
Significance of the drills
The drills which are taking place soon after the first ever Leader’s Summit of the Quad and the visits of the US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and the defence Minister of South Korea Mr Suh Wook.